Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/239/24934
Free The Funds
AS TRADE union branches meet to discuss conference resolutions, the question of the relationship of the trade unions with New Labour will be discussed by many union members.
GLENN KELLY, Bromley UNISON branch secretary, explains about the campaign in public sector union UNISON to free the union's funds from the Labour Party.
UNISON MEMBERS are increasingly angry and frustrated at the Tory attacks on their jobs, conditions and the services they provide. But these attacks, privatisation, cuts and low pay, are being inflicted by New Labour.
That is why delegates voted at last year's UNISON annual conference to review why the union gives so much to the Labour Party, £1.5 million last year.
The trade unions together gave about £6 million to Labour for the general election campaign. This is at the same time as public sector workers were being sacked, like in Hackney council and NHS workers like those at Dudley hospitals were fighting privatisation.
That's the background to the fundamental break between the union and the Labour Party which delegates debated and decided on at last year's UNISON conference.
The union national leadership denied delegates the right to debate stopping the funding. The leadership fought tooth and nail against the resolution which called for consultation with the branches and the regions about funding but the conference voted in favour.
Since then the leadership has been prevaricating on the consultation so they don't have to put the report or rule changes to this year's conference, which they were instructed to do.
In spite of that, a number of branches did start consulting their members but the leadership stopped it, in a deliberate attempt to flout the wishes of the membership.
The general secretary hoped he'd be baled out in the meantime by promises and assurances about privatisation and PFI which he got at the Labour Party conference. That has now backfired because the Labour government has just continued to slap UNISON around the face.
UNISON organised a national day of action in defence of public services on 4 December. In a deliberate attempt to put the unions down, Labour announced on that very day that they were handing over health services to BUPA, a private profit-making company. And they've recently announced further privatisation of health services.
During the conference debate I was accused of wanting to take the union out into the wilderness. But within weeks of the vote we saw the GMB cutting donations from Labour and in words at least threatening to stand candidates against them. Rail union RMT and the Fire Brigades Union also voted to review their links with Labour.
The UNISON leadership think they can avoid a debate by manoeuvring. But we are preparing for this year's conference from a stronger position. With each cut and each privatisation our position gets stronger.
How do we ensure we can change the rules come the June conference? It's been agreed through the UNISON United Left, which I chair, that we will campaign for the consultation to take place in the branches and regions between now and the conference.
Socialist Party members believe we should then argue that the union should create an open political fund, which has become known as the 'third fund'.
At the moment the union membership can choose to pay to Labour, through the affiliated political fund, or to the general political fund for general campaigning, or to none of them. We believe they should have another choice, to fund election candidates who support anti-cuts and anti-privatisation policies.
The union has set up a national working party of senior union officers but refused a branch representative on it. As I was the one who moved the resolution at last year's conference, it was proposed on the national executive to put me on this working party. But this was defeated.
The leadership's intention is apparently to present an interim report to this years' conference, that way avoiding the consultation and rule changes. They want to postpone it for another year, hoping Labour will turn up with something to rescue them.
We want branches to carry out the consultation, to organise debates and campaigns and report back nationally. Then at the June conference we'll be able to say how many branches have responded.
When the leadership consulted on the question of the branches' right to campaign, they produced a document in effect vetoing this right, on the basis of response from just 31 branches.
I'm confident that if we can have the debate on the conference floor, we'll win.
For model resolutions and campaign material, contact Free the Funds:
PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In The Socialist 1 February 2002: